links for 2008-01-24

Guest Author: A genius for leadership, or a genius for being led?

I’m really pleased that guest author Tobe Freeman of wordupcommunications has been kind enough to contribute this article. Tobe is an ex-research biologist who has swapped the lab bench for the keyboard of a macbook pro. He works in Zurich for the Swiss Finance Institute.

For those who care or recall, Blake’s 7 is a BBC Sci-Fi from the 1970s with a cast of misfits fighting against a tyrannical regime called the Federation.

Conventional sounding stuff.

Blake 7 Group

What fascinates me about Blake’s 7 is the unconventional way in which the characters work together.
Roj Blake leads an unruly but talented and specialized team. Thieves, mercenaries and an amoral computer genius called Kerr Avon, everyone is free to do as they please yet the team still manages to achieve amazing things.
Not that the Blake’s 7 management model is easy to define.

Blake: I command this ship.
Avon: Do you indeed?
Jenna: You lead. We don’t take commands.

Blake leads but doesn’t control. There is not much evidence of exploitation or micromanagement. Indeed, Blake doesn’t even inspire a great deal of confidence.

Vila: If it ever comes to a showdown, my money’s on Blake. Well, half of it – I’ll put the other half on Avon.


Despite this complex state of affairs, Blake’s 7 defines a system of leadership and management that is well adapted to the harsh realities of decision making under uncertainty.


Blake: Have you got any better ideas?
Avon: As a matter of fact, I haven’t.
Blake: Does that mean you agree?
Avon: Do I have a choice?
Blake: Yes.
Avon: Then I agree.

I had to read that twice.

Towards the end of the third series the actor playing Blake, Gareth Thomas, wanted out of Blake’s 7 and the series went on for a further 15 episodes without him. Gareth Thomas agreed to appear in the final episode of the 4th series on condition that his character was killed off completely.

No further series were made.

Having looked around a bit, it seems that no one has come forward with a management theory modeled on Blake’s 7.
Indeed, a book by Chris Blenkarn called ‘Blake’s Seven: The Way Forward?’ makes fun of Blake with stories of an eponymous management consultant with an enthusiasm for half-baked leadership models.

Casting my net a little wider, I find two references that might help to understand the magic of Blake’s system of management.
The first is called The Leaders We Need: And What Makes Us Follow, by anthropologist Michael Maccoby, director of the Project on Technology, Work and Character.

Maccoby argues that the question “What makes us follow?” is at least as interesting as “What makes a leader?”

“For leaders to lead they need the ability to attract followers”, and that means engaging the social character of those around you. The social character of today is shaped by job insecurity, the facelessness of the global market place and constant technological change. We, those that survive, adapt to these conditions by learning and improving continuously and by interacting with each other as much as we can: we have learned that knowledge sharing is our only power.

The character Avon set my mind thinking about an interactive management style when he delivered the following line:
“Is it that Blake has a genius for leadership, or merely that you have a genius for being led?”

My guess is that we’ll all have to develop a genius for being led; the genius part being that we should not take commands. Society has all but dispensed with command management. And it is probably a big mistake for any of us to gamble on one single manager having all the commanding answers. But I don’t want to say too much more about that.

The second source of insight about Blake’7 management is a book called The End of Management by Kenneth Cloke (Director of the Center for Dispute Resolution) and Joan Goldsmith (specialist in leadership development and organizational change).

Cloke and Goldsmith describe how management came into its element with the rise of slavery in Babylonia, Egypt and Rome. In other words it is a bad thing that sits on the debit side of our history.

They claim traditional management is being replaced by a more democratic order in which people manage themselves. Let’s hope that Avon is not correct in his suggestion that this would require genius in everybody. But Cloke and Goldsmith at least have a nice idea.

That brings me to Blake’s 7 dirty secret. The cast enjoys the ample and unfailing services of extremely powerful computers, including a strange talking box of lights called Orac:

Orac: I must point out that this is a gross misuse and an absurd waste of my capabilities.
Avon: Put it on the main screen.
Orac: I will do it only under protest.
Avon: You can do it any way you like, just so long as you put it on the main screen.


Perhaps a little exploitation is unavoidable.

Do you have what it takes to be British?

Last year, I happened to be in a registry office in London, and overheard people who had just taken the British citizenship test talking about the difference between public holidays and bank holidays (do you know the difference?). Recently I saw this book, and thought I’d give it a quick read.

Teach Yourself British Citizenship Test

In 2005, the British government decided that everyone who is naturalised or given indefinite leave to remain in the UK, should be expected to pass a test about “Life in the UK” as a prerequisite. I was interested to know what kind of knowledge was regarded as so necessary to being a British citizen.

I expected it to be completely idiotic, so in some ways, I was pleasantly surprised. Lots of the information you’re expected to read and learn for the test is about peoples rights, and services and charities that can help you. Some of it is information that you really should be told about the way the UK works for your own benefit. This is good stuff, and I’m in favour of making sure that people who live here know these things.

Which of these two statements is correct?

  1. You can contact your MP by letter or phone at their constituency office or at the House of Commons.
  2. If you want to contact your MP you must go to the House of Commons.

Which of these two statements is correct?

  1. The general public are not allowed inside Parliament.
  2. The general public can visit Parliament by getting tickets from their MP or by queuing at the public entrance.

Citizens of EU member states have the right to travel to or work in other EU countries.

  1. True
  2. False

Which of these statements is correct?

  1. The Citizens Advice Bureau will advise you on housing problems
  2. You must consult the local authority about housing problems

And so on, making sure that you know Shelter is a housing charity, how to look for work, that you can’t believe everything you read in newspapers, that you know that you can vote, that you know you can’t be chucked out of your house by the landlord, how to use the NHS, that you know your kids have to go to school, and that you know what documentation you’ll need to get a bank account or register with a doctor. All information really that anyone moving to the UK should be given.

There are questions in between, things about customs, what most Britons eat for Christmas dinner, how most folk bring up their kids, general history about the ethnic roots of the people who live in the UK and the common religions, stuff that isn’t tremendously important, but might be useful for people to know. Then there are the other sorts of questions. General knowledge facts that most Britons would be entirely unaware of, that help you not a bit and that somehow are thought to be so important for foreigners moving to the UK to know that they’re included in the test.

How many members of the Scottish Parliament are there?

  1. 129
  2. 130
  3. 219
  4. 229

When was the present voting age set?

  1. 1918
  2. 1928
  3. 1969
  4. 1971

When was the Council of Europe created?

  1. 1973
  2. 1957
  3. 1949
  4. 2004

In what year did the Gunpowder Plot take place?

  1. 1705
  2. 1805
  3. 1516
  4. 1605

How many seats are there in the European Parliament for representatives from the UK

  1. 250
  2. 98
  3. 78
  4. 28

And there are a few further requirements. There are the numerous forms that must be filled in for a start. You have to pay 655 pounds, swear a bizzare oath of allegiance to the Queen (something many born Britons would never do), and attend a Welcoming ceremony where you will have to sit through speeches by “local dignitaries”. If you do not attend the welcoming ceremony within 90 days, not only do you not become a citizen, but you have to make a new application, pay the fee again (since the cost of the welcoming ceremony is included in the fee) and attend another. I’m not a big fan of ceremonies personally, I didn’t attend my graduation, however I’m not totally against the idea of a welcoming ceremony. The whole point of the welcoming ceremony is to try to make an occasion of it. However for it to be truly welcoming, perhaps it should be paid for by the UK, be noncompulsory, and interesting enough to make people actually want to attend. Maybe a concert from British bands keen to welcome the new citizens. Perhaps a couple of comedians, and yes, maybe then a speech from a “local dignitary”, but I think citizenship welcoming ceremonies should move with the times. It should be something that people are jealous you are going to and it should include real British people who aren’t doing it just because they’re paid to welcoming you.

Since before you can apply for naturalisation, and take the test, you must already have been living in the UK for at least 5 years, it does make some of the questions e.g. about what you need to open a bank account possibly a little out of date for you.

I’m not sure that I have the sheer determination, spare cash, patience, drive, form filling ability, and moral deviousness (swearing an oath I don’t agree with), to be British.

links for 2008-01-02

Happy New Year

I hope you had a good new year celebration, and that you’re looking forward to new challenges.

It’s become a bit of a tradition for us now to take a long walk for the new year, talking month by month through what happened in our lives, friendships and work, and about what things we’d like to achieve over the next year. We had a busy one this year.

We also like to light a fire. This year, since we live in a large urban area, the only bit of land we were sure we’d get away with it on was our car parking space.

warmcar parking fire

People walked past talking on their mobiles as we admired the shafts of light the street lights made cutting through the smoke (sadly didn’t get a picture of that – it was very cool). We’d run out of marshmallows unfortunately, and it’s hard to buy marshmallows at that time of night. Of course, we had to be careful putting the fire out.


Ways people have found the site

Sometimes the things others say about you is more important than what you say about yourself. This is particularly true of search engines (and why I understand the importance of things like the wikia search initiative). Here are things that people have typed into google, yahoo, technorati, etc in 2007 and somehow ended up here:

  • economic advantages from Al Capone
  • cursed jewellery inheriting
  • photos of animals wearing eyeshields
  • rhymin method of birth control
  • what factors do you need to be aware of when designing the shape of your car to address speed and distance traveled?
  • Economic Opinions on Cereal Choices?
  • hard cor sex
  • I’m very sorry for what i write